Oh man I have been there, in the Lunch Box Wars-the dreaded sandwich that doesn’t get eaten, the grumpy child who doesn’t understand why he’s grumpy, the leftover food going to waste, stupid statements like “you’re eating this in your lunch TOMORROW”- All of it and more. It’s been ugly.

Lunch Box Wars!




I’m calling this piece (and future pieces about school lunches) Lunch Box Wars because I’ve been sending school lunches with kids for 18 years and it has finally become easier, it still feels like a battle somedays though. Maybe the Lunch Box Wars are real for you too?  This isn’t so much as a “how to” post but rather I feel you and here’s how we dealt with it post.

So Optimistic!

A few years ago I was all “woohhooooo kids are going to make their own lunches” that lasted about 4 weeks and then stuttered out, and they were back to not eating their lunches and coming home cranky as bear in January. I tried again the next year and prepped tons of fruit and veggies, bought expensive lunch meats, made granola bars, all of it guaranteed to make lunches EASIER for kids to prepare. And thus they would EAT their lunches. Again it lasted 4 weeks before it petered out before I was back to making lunches for them and they were back to not eating those lunches. I don’t know why, or I didnt know why at the time but I understand part of the problem now, my kids don’t like sandwiches.

My Kids Don’t Like Sandwiches.

Eventually I figured it out, apparently I’m not that quick on the uptake but after 3-4 years of uneaten sandwiches I realized that the biggest problem with school lunches was the damn sandwich. Once I quit trying to force my kids to eat a sandwich our school lunch problems were just about solved. I quit buying expensive meat. I quit buying sandwich bread. I quit buying nicely sliced cheese. I saved myself a lot of money every two weeks because I quit buying it all. Instead I bought two thermoses and started sending leftovers for lunches.


And lunches started getting eaten. Kids were less grumpy. I was less mad about wasted lunch food. And suddenly I didn’t hate making school lunches. I still don’t hate making school lunches.

Now some people may say “your kids are picky eaters” “just send them food and they’ll eat it” “don’t cater to your kids” and to those people I say you could be right BUT my kids eat salad willingly, they love vegetables, they will fight for the last Brussels Sprout, so not liking sandwiches doesn’t really bother me. I didn’t like sandwiches as a child and I can’t actually tell you the last time I willingly ate a sandwich. Do I wish they ate sandwiches sometimes? Yes, it would be easier to make them a PB&J and call it good but I know by the time school is over I’ll have at least one child, probably two who are ready to kill. One of my boys will occasionally eat a sandwich but it’s a rare day when that happens.

What do I pack instead of a sandwich? Ahhhh yes the “meat” (omg I crack myself up!) of this post. I’m going to divide the list in two, one for leftovers, just to give you an idea of what can be sent in a thermos, hot or cold, and enjoyed. And one list of stand alone items you can heat (or not) and send just for their lunch.


  • soups and stews with noodles, rice or dumplings
  • chili with chips or cornbread
  • fajitas-send a tortilla or two as well
  • mashed potatoes and gravy
  • hot rice w/butter, soy sauce, peanut sauce or gravy
  • taco bowl-meat, beans and rice
  • rice and beans-however you prepare it
  • chopped steak, roasted potatoes
  • sushi leftovers (sent cold)
  • roasted chicken
  • pot roast with veggies
  • roasted squash
  • taco salad
  • chefs salad
  • roasted potatoes and veggies-like hash
  • pasta and various sauces-like spaghetti, cheese sauce or white sauce
  • bean soup-all sorts, depends on what you make
  • falafel-I make them small enough to slide in the thermos
  • curry, over rice or without it
  • fried rice
  • pizza- sliced to fit the thermos
  • refried beans with a baggie of corn chips
  • baked beans with a cut up hot dog or ham

Stand Alone

  • scrambled eggs
  • quesadillas
  • cottage cheese(cold)
  • taquitos
  • bean burritos
  • chicken nuggets/strips
  • eggrolls
  • ramen
  • grilled cheese-one sandwich we can ALL agree on!
  • corn dogs, with the stick removed
  • hot dog on a bun
  • hummus (cold) with fresh veggies on the side
  • salmon salad, egg salad or tuna salad with crackers
  • any canned soup, beans, stews or other heat and serve meals

So those are some of the things we send, and have great success with, in lunch boxes. Do your kids like sandwiches? Do you send a hot food option? What’s your favorite?